‘Golden Sequence’ is a masterpiece of sacred Latin poetry

Father John A. Kiley

Very Reverend Monsignor Charles H. Lynch was a native of St. Charles Borromeo parish in Woonsocket and a close friend of my family. While my mother was attending Katherine Gibbs Secretarial School in Providence, “Charlie” Lynch was attending LaSalle Academy.

The two of them caught the early train from Depot Square in Woonsocket and then the late afternoon train from Union Station. A lifelong friendship was formed. Young Father Lynch taught at St. Raphael Academy in Pawtucket and at Our Lady of Providence Seminary at Warwick Neck. When Fr. Russell J. McVinney was named bishop of Providence, he chose Father Lynch as his successor as rector of the seminary. He also installed Father Lynch as a papal chamberlain, that is, a very reverend monsignor, in 1950. I attended the investiture there at the ocean-side seminary, never suspecting that in eight years I would be a student there myself. While my parents looked upon Msgr. Lynch as a good friend, the faculty and students at Our Lady of Providence Seminary found him to be, so I understand, a bit of a martinet. Appearing distinguished, but stern with his silver hair and rimless glasses, his was a no-nonsense regime.

In preparation for my own ordination and first Mass in 1966, Msgr. Lynch, by then pastor of St. Mary Church in Bristol, was quite the logical choice to be archpriest at the Mass and to speak a few words at the dinner held, as was the custom in those days, in St. Charles’ parish hall. In my letter inviting Msgr. Lynch to address the assembled guests, I asked him to thank especially my parents for the support they had offered and the sacrifices they had made during my eight years of study. Cleverly and sympathetically, instead of composing his own tribute to my parents, Msgr. Lynch simply read my letter – much to my parents’ great delight and somewhat to my discomfort.

Then, after sharing a few thoughts of his own on the priesthood, he closed his remarks by quoting a few lines from the Pentecost sequence read at the previous Sunday’s Mass: “O most blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of thine, And our inmost being fill! Give them virtue’s sure reward; Give them thy salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen. Alleluia.” While the final words were appropriately intended by the monsignor as a prayer on behalf of my parents, these words certainly applied to everyone in that parish hall that day and, in fact, to all the faithful throughout the church every day.

This sequence for Pentecost Sunday, often called the Golden Sequence, is worthily considered one of the great written masterpieces of sacred Latin poetry. Even the translation sung, heard or read at Masses throughout the English-speaking church this weekend still has some of the original genius through which thoughts lofty and deep are conveyed in terse phrases. The hymn has been attributed to three different medieval authors: King Robert II the Pious of France, Pope Innocent III and Stephen Langton, Archbishop of Canterbury, of which the last, according to Wikipedia, is most likely the author.

This medieval hymn is appropriately linked to the traditional Pentecost Gospel, whose brevity also belies its depth: “Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.” And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, “Receive the Holy Spirit. Whose sins you forgive are forgiven them, and whose sins you retain are retained.” Jesus shares the fullness of his hard-earned, resurrected inner peace with his disciples during this first Easter apparition. Jesus also shares with his disciples the commission from his Father to evangelize the world. Jesus then endows his select followers with the very breath of God Himself, the Holy Spirit. And Jesus shares as well his ministry of reconciliation with those who will continue his healing work on earth after he returns to the Father.

Fortified with inner peace, challenged with a worldwide ministry, confirmed with the Divine Spirit, and authorized to bestow forgiveness and mercy on a repenting world, the disciples were experiencing on Easter Sunday night the gifts the rest of the church would receive on Pentecost. Once again, the Pentecost prayer of today’s church should be: “O most blessed Light divine, Shine within these hearts of thine, And our inmost being fill! On the faithful, who adore And confess thee, evermore In thy sevenfold gift descend; Give them virtue’s sure reward; Give them thy salvation, Lord; Give them joys that never end. Amen! Alleluia!”